Farmers as custodians of Earth

 At a time when no limits are set for our thoughts and success, both farmers and seeds stay within limits and blossom a boundless world of Life – an abundance blossomed from limits. All what we seek lies dormant as a treasure in this dynamically embedded body – our body and body of earth. What farmers nurture and uphold in this soil, is a world of care, attention, resistance, survival, custodianship, togetherness and sanctity.

Solutions to environmentally and socially damaging human practices today require re-establishing  connection with agriculture and other earth caring practices. Agriculture is not a technical activity of application of science for food production but rather a socio-cultural practice, rich with deep rooted meaning for the people involved. Agriculture is farming and farming is responsible keeping, breeding and rearing. It is soil, seed, moisture, warmth, air, vulnerability, and also pests, weeds, and infestation. It is observation and staying alert, it is people and relationships. Industrial agriculture is the antonym of it.

It is in this context that we, a small group of creative minds, decided to spend time with a farmer’s collective, FTAK, and work towards a cross disciplinary art project focusing on culture of agriculture, situating our larger ecological and social context today. This article holds fragments that we stumbled upon when we walked with them during the last three years. With me in this inquiry, apart from number of well wishers, are visual artist – Azis T.M, poet – V.T.Jayadevan, theatre artist – Shivdas Poikavu and poet – M.P Pratheesh.

Changing values

Not long ago in this county most people were either doing farming or in some way were connected or had acquaintance with farmers. Today, this connection is lost and its implications on our culture, ecology, consumption, understanding of food, and wasting are grave. And it is important to re-establish the connection between agriculture and the general public.

When people were connected with agriculture it had a bearing on our cultural sensibilities too. For eg., it helped sustain an empathy for food, which is a deeper connection with food. Not long ago, in our houses, children were taught to respect every grain that earth produced. When a grain of rice falls on the ground, we would pick it with hands. Sweeping it with broom was considered as showing disrespect to food and earth. Even when we had in abundance, we practiced the same. The food that we held in our hands was not regarded from the light of money spent but as something mother earth gifted. In certain conditions, each grain is a seed and as food it comes to sustain our life. Today, the food we waste is taking us to a level of insanity.

While the nation’s dream development projects burned many along with their land, still some continued to persist like a chopped tree puts forth new branches from its remains. They tried to keep the light of farm alive, as a sacred duty keeping a covenant between the seed and us. When the country’s law is to protect and foster market and capital economy, the law farmers honor is the law of life and health. Farmer’s law is founded on interconnectedness and interdependence of life, and honoring its responsibility and obligation. Hence we have witnessed in the past many peoples movements in the country, be it farmers, tribals or fish workers, who have fought certain developmental projects and market to preserve the law of the soil and a life sustained by it.

Many kinds of profit that we make in the country today is like poisoning the pond to catch fish. It is to make short term profit without caring about ecological and social consequences. A good farmer is in another kind of relationship and bondage. They are also the custodians of the soil in which they dwell. Only if he cared about the health of the soil, his children can continue to dwell in that soil. Their notion of justice, sense of responsibility, and embeddedness they preserve has its meaning beyond their family, generation and community.

But farmers today are pushed to the corner to earn more just to meet their basic needs and education needs of children etc. They take heavy loans to teach their children, and the children learn to fit to a world that disregard agriculture. What could we speak of a country that cannot protect people who showed a way of living in accordance with the law of preservation and sustenance of life. We animate them to do what should not be done, and cause a situation where there is no other choice. An insanity of our times.

Nurturing has given way to a different kind of efficiency that market demands. A farmer says, “today we are losing control on our taste. What market is doing today is taking away our own taste. Until now the taste was defined by what was grown in our fields. Today the market takes our produces and brings back their taste to us. For eg., jackfruit burger, rolls, etc. Our kitchen was not just a place to cook but also a place to preserve both food and seeds. Today, the works we do on the land and its taste have less place in our house, in our kitchen. What we do in our land is for an abstract market and the life in our homes is defined by that world outside”. A connection lost its symbiotic nature

Changing perceptions

Today, what is written is considered as knowledge. But the knowledge that farmers hold is not in books or in the library but dwell among the living. Farmers are the sanctuaries of knowledge and wisdom. It would be worthwhile to do an integrated auditing on the contributions, gains and wastage both farmers and other professionals make in our times today. It should include contributions that sustain our life, larger ecological issues, efficient use of energy and wastage created, among many other things. If one does not know the integral nature of things he cannot engage with the work of nurturing. By default due to the nature of engagement farmers are conditioned to do, nurturing coexistence and sustenance become integral part of their consciousness.

Today’s knowledge by and large is abstract. Knowledge serves its purpose only when it serves lifeWe have gained much knowledge today. But it has blinded us from recognising the tenets of life. The desire for success and higher profit has grown to become like a killer weed, which has enwrapped most thoughts, actions and forms we encounter today. You ban one product in the market, it will resurface in another form. Similarly, every solution that we find for a problem, itself would become another problem for which we need to find another solution. This alienated approach to life, as we all know, has caused many problems. Both physical as well as emotional and mental issues are growing in alarming ways in the country.

Fifty years ago, we did not have anything that we could call as waste. It was an alien thought. Everything helped nourish something else. Today we do not have anything as pervasive as waste. We are enwrapped with waste. In India every day we dump 25,940 tons of plastic alone as waste. We believe every problem paves way to another business. And also we believe that there is a system in place to find solutions for all the problems that we face. Even when we lose everything, we push our dreams forth. How long we can go on playing this game?

Due to the nature of engagement farmers are conditioned to do, nurturing coexistence and sustenance become integral part of their consciousness.

Learning to reconnect with life

For us, who have become a part of a machine for the market and is running to meet targets, and in the process losing ourselves, farmers show a different way of living. They live in a different time and speed. The ways of the soil, seeds, sprouts and yield are different. It is about a different kind of alertness, waiting, slowness and letting go. How do we understand slow money and slow food? And what is the meaning of being slow for our times.

Seeds and the soil that the farmers care hold up the truth of life. Farming is alertness and observation. You can see what is going on. The hand and feet that works through it, with or without knowing, preserve the truth of coexistence. For us, the people who have developed a taste for studio aesthetics, corporate funded exhibitions and other entertainments, entering the beauty of seed and soil may become a journey of pilgrimage. To re-establish this connection between agriculture and the general public, I feel, every citizen before s/he is thirty should spend a minimum of two years in an integrated agricultural land.

Agriculture holds great spiritual meaning too for seeds and soil. A walk through the soil is walk into a different light and bodily relation. As of a spiritual act, separating seeds, keeping, caring, planting and exchanging, the hands feet eyes and heart of a farmer overcome darkness. With the sacred act of placing the seeds into the soil, farm lands become ‘silent prayers’.

While we celebrate the personalities of different professions and hold them as our common pride, we have to recognize that in our midst are people who walk the land and work without names, address and honors, work day and night making not only what we eat but also help protect the earth. Still they remain outside our consciousness.

If our wounds are to be healed, we need to enter their wounds. In their life of interdependence with nature, we shall find healing. Let our wounds, sorrows, joy, togetherness and blossom, be rooted in the truth of Life.

C.F. John

C.F. John
25, 1st Cross, 1st Main
Byraveshwara Layout, Hennur Bande,
Kalyanagar Post, Bangalore – 560 043, India
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